Ottawa - The Canadian Bar Association(CBA) harshly criticized the Conservative Harper government's new anti-terror bill C-51, claiming it has measures that would deprive Canadians of liberties while not increasing their safety.
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The Bar Association objected to changing the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to allow it to actively disrupt terror plots, claiming that "vague and overly broad language" would allow disruption of legitimate activity including environmental and aboriginal protests. The CBA represents over 37,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students.
The targeting of environmental and aboriginal activists is no doubt one aim of the legislation. The RCMP has recently warned that environmental activists are more of a danger to Canadian security than radical Islamists at least in the energy sector. Jeffrey Monaghan of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario notes that monitoring of environmental activists by police and security agencies has become the "new normal". He claims that police and security agencies are more and more conflating terrorism and extremism with peaceful citizens, exercising their democratic rights to organise petitions, and protest government policies.
The Association was very critical of a section of the legislation giving judges the power to authorize the Canadian Security Intelligence Service(CSIS) to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The CBA said that this power puts “the entire Charter into jeopardy, undermines the rule of law, and goes against the fundamental role of judges as the protectors of Canada’s constitutional rights.” The CBA also suggested that there should be a sunset clause with the bill expiring and forcing a parliamentary reviews no more than five years after passage. Representatives of the CBA are to appear before the House of Commons committee that is studying the bill next week.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien submitted an extensive critique of the legislation that can be found here. Even though opposition parties had Therrien near the top of the list of people they suggested should testify he was not invited to testify. Over a hundred academics, many of them lawyers signed an open letter claiming the bill has major problems and threatens Canadians privacy and freedom of speech. They argue that the provisions are too broad and lack safeguards against abuse. As with the Bar Association the academics are very concerned about expanding the role of CSIS to disruption of activities. The text of the letter written on February 23rd can be found here. It was sent to all members of parliament.
Aboriginal groups as well as environmentalists fear that they will become targets under the legislation. First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde said before the committee hearings: "We don't want to be labelled as terrorists in our own territories, our own homelands, for standing up to protect the land and waters." He indicated that the bill will be challenged in the courts since the government did not consult with the First Nations about the legislation. There have been many protests against the legislation including a Day of Action on March 14th with protests in many Canadian cities.